Elections may be held on Saturday ; there is no statute preventing elections being held on that day, and in selecting a day these matters are not always borne in mind. It may be more convenient, in fact it frequently is more convenient, in the interests of the lumbermen, especially in New Brunswick, to hold elections on Saturday, because on other days they are in the woods and are unable to get out until Saturday. The fishermen also are away all week, but come home on Saturday in time to vote and are able to spend Sunday at home.
Has the hon. gentleman (Mr. Emmerson) read section 2, which gives the judge power to excuse a man for his non-voting ? The reason advanced by the hon. gentleman (Mr. Emmerson) would be an excellent reason, and the judge would-excuse him.
I recognize what is in the law as well as does my hon. friend (Mr. Fowler), but I recognize also that it would be a manifest injustice to impose on each of these men the duty of appearing before the judge, with the expense it would involve and the unfair position in which you place him by compelling him to go to a judge and make excuses for the exercise of his religious scruples. Such a law would be unfair in every respect, and not in accord with the constitutional rights we enjoy in this Dominion.
Mr. DEMERS (St. John and Iberville.) (Translation).
I fear, Mr. Speaker, that in discussing this question in the manner we are doing now, we are somewhat losing too much sight of the real interests of the country. It should not be forgotten that electors who abstain from voting because there is no law to compel them to do so. are not a desirable class of voters. Considered in that light, the question is an easy one_ to solve. To my mind, voters who do not think it worth while to go to the polling booth are not, as a rule, enlightened people, well informed as regards the matters upon which they are expected to express an opinion, or else they are not honest people. Now, while the present system may not give the best results as regards the number of votes registered, it ensures, on the other hand, better quality. What we lose in numbers is made up by the better quality. I believe that the general interests of the country would be better served by those painstaking and honest voters who go to the polling booth of their own free will, than they could possibly be by those ignorant or dishonest voters whom it is the purpose to compel to vote under penalty of law. What would be the value of a popular verdict with a majority of voters lacking in education or honesty, a sort of compulsory universal suffrage ? By
means of the system in force to-day what we lose in numbers we make up in quality.
It seems to me that this House has forgotten the premises on which we started to frame this election Act. The question of drafting an Act of this kind was submitted to a committee on the advice of the Minister of Finance. In recommending this course to the House the hon. the Minister of Finance stated that unfortunately corrupt practices prevailed extensively throughout the community, and he invited all parties in the House to join together for the purpose of doing away with such practices ; that was the premise upon which we started. If the premise is not correct, if, as the right hon. gentleman who leads the House stated, corrupt practices do not extensively prevail, especially in rural districts, what was the object of the statement of the hon. the Finance Minister, or why was the Bill introduced? The very suggestion which we are now considering was made by the hon. Minister of Finance to do away with corrupt practices. He said that perhaps one of the most effective means of doing away with such practices was compulsory voting. We agree with him and we have joined with the government for the purpose of drafting a Bill to the best of our ability and ;of presenting an acceptable Bill to the House. If these practices prevail in the community, as the hon. Minister of Finance states, and as I believe they do, I am with him in stating that one of the most effective means of preventing these practices is compulsory voting, and I believe, as I stated before, that the committee should have gone a step further and recommended open voting. If a man is bribed, you can then ascertain that fact, because you know what his convictions were up to the moment of his voting. If he votes contrary to what he has been stating and talking in the past you become suspicious. Open voting is an effective means of bringing corruption and bribery home to the individual. It would also avoid the enormous expense to which every one of us is put in bringing to the polls those whom the people of the country entrusted with a trust, and who ought to be there without our having to expend money to bring them there. Most of the corrupt practices that are committed are not in the form of direct bribery of a voter, but in the expenditure of money to convey him to the polls to exercise his trust. And why should he not exercise it ? As my hon. friend (Mr. Fowler) says, it is a trust which the voter exercises for a number of persons in the community. If it is a trust he ought to exercise it in some manner or give an excuse for not exercising it, just as any other person invested with the trust would have to do. For these reasons, I think the Minister of Justice and the government ought to support the Bill or show some other means of accomplishing the same purpose of doing away with Mr. DEMERS (St. John and Iberville).
these corrupt practices which the Finance Minister stated extensively prevail in a community, and to prevent which he suggested this conference between the two parties. Surely these practices have not ceased in the community since his statement. And why was there not an agreement in the statements of the Finance Minister and of the right hon. gentleman who leads the government ? Why did not the Prime Minister say that the Finance Minister was mistaken, and that it was his experience that corrupt practices did not prevail extensively in Canada ? We took it as voicing the opinion, not only of the government, but of the members on that side of the House, that there should be an agreement between both parties that an end should toe put to the practices which every one of us knows extensively prevail in the community. If this is not a remedy, it is for the government to suggest one. What remedy do the government propose for these corrupt practices if they do not accept the recommendation of the committee ? Bet them do something to prevent these corrupt practices, the existence of which is notorious.
If these corrupt practices to which the hon. gentleman has referred really exist in the community. I venture to suggest that this proposal is no remedy at all for that evil. It is not a remedy for an existing evil to substitute another evil in its place, and I would consider it a very great evil indeed to enact any legislation that would have the effect of invading in any respect the conscientious convictions of any element in this community. My hon. friend (Hon. Mr. Haggart) says that' the evil exists, in the fact that men are paid to keep away from the polls.
In what respect is that a remedy? If a man is paid not to go to the poll, he may be forced to come to the poll under this Bill, and when he goes there he can deposit his blank ballot, or he can spoil the ballot. You might know that he had gone to the poll, and so far had given you consideration for the price you have given; but if he spoiled his ballot or did not mark it, he would not havje voted all the same. Whether, he stays away and. does not vote, or whether he goes to the poll and deposits a blank ballot, he has not voted in either case. In what respect then is this compulsory voting a remedy. I maintain that this proposal is in advance of public opinion in this country. This is not the only country where constitutional freedom exists and where
the people have the right of franchise; but of all other countries, only in Belgium does compulsory voting exist. Why have they not adopted it in England, why have they not adopted it in the United States, why have they not adopted it in any of these countries where a free franchise exists. I contend that this is no remedy for the evil.
Educate the public up to understand the franchise and the privilege of the franchise ; allow the education that is going on now to continue for a few years more, and then you will have a remedy. The whole world knows that the corruption that was so rampant years ago is fast disappearing. My hon. friend (Hon. Mr. Ilaggart) knows that bis friends on that side of the House are no more unanimous than we are on this subject; of that we have had evidence this morning. This is not a party question ; it is a question on which men are free to express their opinions, independently altogether of party considerations. I said that we were proceeding on a wrong principle ; we are proceeding on the principle that the franchise is a duty, when it is nothing of the sort. No one of the books that discuss this question look on it in any such light. [DOT]
Let the bon. gentleman bear with me a moment. My hon. friend must not make a broad statement as to 'every one of them,' and then run away from the answer. Woolsey, on ' Political Science ' (page 388, vol. 1, pars. 5 to 127), discusses this question, and he says :
Voting is a privilege, it involves for the most part a duty ; to enforce it by penalty would not comport with the nature of a privilege.
I also refer the hon. gentleman to the ' Forum,' vol. 14, page 176 : ' Venal Voting; Methods and Remedies,' where we find the same principle; and also to Leckny on ' Democracy and Liberty,' vol. 1, page 226, where we find the same principle laid down. In any event, independently altogether of considerations of political ethics, I say that it is an infringement of the principle of personal liberty to enact compulsory voting, and on that ground I oppose it.